Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

Brown sugar choco chunk

The kids are at camps this week, which means lunch-making has ensued. This morning's was pretty meager and I found myself scrounging for some Kirkland fruit snacks that I have hidden in the basement. Time for cookies. These are my usual, changed a bit with all brown sugar instead of white, chocolate chunks instead of chips. Yum.

I thought of posting some "let's-get-real" summer photos here. My dried up herbs and brown, bolted spinach on my peeling deck. The damp towels in piles everywhere, the tower of neglected paperwork on my desk. #$*&!! you, Pinterest! 

For the longest time, I had some rules posted on my bulletin board when the kids were younger. One was "Go outside whenever possible" (still the wisest rule I've ever made for myself). Another was "See my world (and messy house) through eyes of love."

Eyes of love. So, I bless you, old fraying beach towel. I bless you, softening once-perfect organic apricot that I should have used for something amazing. I bless you, 6 dozen half-used bottles of ancient sunscreen in 27 different obscure locations. I bless you, shedding dog, who adds 3 hours of housework onto every blessed week. I bless you, turning earth, and your persistence in providing for us no matter what we do to you.

Here's a little poem I wrote about the ordinary things in my pantry. I hope that, somehow, your ordinary becomes extraordinary this week. xo

Prayer of Thanks for Pantry Staples

For the black turtle beans,
hard, a little dusty, even,
half-filling a cannister in the back
of the pantry, and how,
after two hours in the pot,
they are creamy, soft,
warm, salty, filling this family
for a dollar. For them,
and all the daily ways
water becomes wine,
thank you.

And here's those cookies. Don't act like you didn't skip over the damn poetry for them.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 cubes (1 cup) unlsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. chocolate chips or chunks 

Mix first 5 ingredients together. Add egg mixture, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, and refrigerate dough for a couple hours (even better overnight).

Form into balls and bake on parchment-lined sheets at 350 for 9-10 minutes, until just set. I like to do little ones, fitting 15 on a standard sized jelly roll pan. 

Salted Dark Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut

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Emily had a yoga circle for her 40th birthday last week. It was such a gift to be there in that room, celebrating her and the love that wound its way around the studio.

One of the things the teacher (from Seattle Yoga Arts) said was, "Think of a strength of yours that you have in spades--something you've got extra of! Put that into the circle, and freely take from the circle what it is that you lack or want. I think of it as a 'give-a-penny-take-a-penny bucket'."

This morning, my mom and her best friends had a vintage sale (beautiful and beautifully arranged treasures) and I wanted to bring something. What I have in spades is SPEED in the kitchen and a mind and heart that's always wondering, "What can I bring? What can I give?" So I made this dough last night (almost all cookies benefit from a long time in dough form), baked them this morning, and brought them warm on a cookie sheet. All of us have gifts to give. Mine often happen to be cookies.

We are leaving for our annual Ross Lake trip tomorrow. I am loaded up on novels, bags of pulled pork for the dinner I'm in charge of, and an almost desperate readiness to get out of town, away from email, and away from laundry. As I do, I'm putting some gives and gets out into the world.

I want to give:

  • My love and attention to whoever is in front of me
  • Hospitality, warmth, and food to friends, family, and strangers
  • Good questions and intent listening (instead of advice--I'm working on that) 
  • Beauty and fresh perspective
  • Humor

 I want to receive:

  • Healing for my dog, who was diagnosed with a probable neurological disorder today. I cried at the vet's office and I'm sure it won't be the last time.
  • Guidance and energy for my consulting practice so I can keep giving my gifts in the world
  • Wisdom for the groups I'm leading at church and at Loretta's school, that I can provide good leadership and a non-anxious presence
  • A heart that still breaks for violence in Gaza, ebola in Liberia, and refugee children on the border

Thank you for being here with me. xo

Salted Dark Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut
Many of you will recognize the base of these cookies as my mom's famous chocolate chip cookies. I make them so many different ways, and this is one of them. Plan ahead, as an hour or two in the fridge will give your cookies the right consistency and more depth of flavor.

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. (2 cubes) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 pkg. 60% cacao chocolate chips
1 c. unsweetened big flake coconut
1/4 c. coarsely chopped candied ginger
flaked salt for topping 

In a medium bowl, combine flours, sugars, salt, and soda. 

Add melted butter, egg and egg yolk, and stir until almost combined. Add chocolate chips, coconut, and ginger and stir until just combined. Cover with platsic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight. If overnight, let it sit out for awhile so it's easier to scoop.

Preheat oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Form dough into balls, press a bit of flaked salt onto each one, and bake about 10 minutes until firmed up and slightly golden on top but still a little underdone. Let cool completely.

Go-To Cake

Save the day cake

"*&%$! I forgot that I said I'd bring dessert!"

Seven-year-old Loretta has taken it upon herself to be the Bad Word Police. She thinks "crap" is a bad word, so I guess it could be worse. My friend Emily says she swears more when she's excited. She's excited about her new role at work (which happens to be a church) and finds herself swearing about it all the time. Hilarious. I guess that's true with me, too--the Bad Word Police can issue tickets when excitement or frustration ensues. Abby,who's here every Monday night for our big family dinner, says she can't get a word in edgewise around here. Even the most inconsquencial subjects are blown up into an excitable mess. Loretta, of course, lives for this. Many citations to issue.

%&*#$! If I've forgotten to pay the water bill and come home to a sputtering faucet, that's one thing. (I did that last summer and actually went around to the neighbors asking if they were having problems with their water. My neighbor Lori said, "Have you paid your bill?" Mortification.)

But if I've forgotten about bringing dessert, that's an easy fix. Molly Wizenberg saves the day again. Easy, quick, chocolately depths. Add a little bit of lightly sweetned whipped cream or some strawberries. Or some reduced balsamic syrup and a sprinkiling of flaked salt. Or just plain. The expletives will diminish. Actually, scratch that. They will just be uttered in a more contented way.

Save-the-Day Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I'm checking in here tonight feeling so FULL.

My family is doing the dishes around me, and I'm enjoying seeing my new maxim of "The Cook Doesn't Do Dishes" in action. Wyatt is listening to Jack White (loudly), Loretta is swiffering, and Yancey is supervising. We had clam chowder for dinner, and you would have thought I gave Wyatt a trip to Universal Studios. After mountain biking with Yancey, he ate two huge bowls and thanked me three times. 

And I'm full of other things, too. I have a friend who's really sad and suffering. I was able to be with her over the weekend, and I'm thinking about her every second. I have clients whose jobs are demanding more of them than I could ever imagine. I'm thinking about Egypt and Syria and indeed, all the conflict and scarcity in the world and my seeming helplessness in the face of it. In much more incosnquential news, I feel overwhelmed by my inbox, things that didn't get crossed off my summer to-do list, a new car payment, finding time to be still, procuring soccer gear, and the unearthly amount of laundry that insists on torturing me.

Fall is always a time of goal-setting for me. I think there are lots of us, parents or not, who are still on the academic calendar. After I've dug myself out from summer off-the-radar-ness, I usually have a burst of energy and optimism that helps reset things a bit. Among my intentions this fall:

  • Hand off more work and responsibility to the kids. For instance, tell them what time we're leaving and expect them to be ready by that time instead of micro managing everyone to death just so I don't look like a loser mom by being late. Hello, enabling behavior!
  • View my responsibilities as opportunities for engagement, relationship, and connection. We have Soccer Mania around the corner and I find myself resenting the space it's taking up on my calendar. But they'll be outside, getting exercise and great lessons in collaboration. And I will be outside (drenched!), hopefully making new friends and seeing old ones.
  • Get up earlier than my kids to exercise and meditate. That happened this morning, and I've been drafting on it all day.
  • Hold myself accountable--in health, relationships, spirituality, work, parenting--but don't compare myself to others! I'm really noticing lately how damaging and defeating that is. Continue to cultivate the discipline of gratitude, which is the best antidote I know of for the trap of comparison.

And lastly, involve my kids more in cooking. I'm pretty bad about this, actually, because a) I'm in a hurry and b) I really like to be alone in the kitchen. It's meditative for me. That won't go away, but once or twice a week, it's good for us to do things together. Loretta helped me make these cookies, and she was in heaven. She's so stinking careful with her measurements and so eager to help with every little thing. I want to bawl when I think about all those kids in Syria, camping outside, fleeing from their homes, who'd give anything for a quiet and safe afternoon. Creator, surround them with love, goodness, and plenty even in the midst of their horror. Help us work to end that war and all wars, which only create suffering and loss. Amen.

And Happy Back-to-School. These cookies are divine, and perfect for those never-ending lunches.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies
If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you will notice that I am cheating with this "new" recipe. These are my tried and true cookies with three differences--chocolate chunks instead of chips, no oatmeal, and refrigerated overnight instead of 1-2 hours. That's a really important part. I tried them with just a couple hours in the fridge, and the difference was huge. And in favor of the overnight method.

 2 c. flour
1 c. dark or light brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. (2 cubes) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. (12 oz.) dark chocolate chunks
Flaked salt for top (optional) 

Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, egg and egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks and refrigerate dough for 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. Form dough into balls (the dough will be hard! Persist!) and sprinkle with salt, if using. Bake on two racks in the oven for about 9 minutes, switching them halfway through. Let cool. 

Salted Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut

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These really are worth reading about. Stay on the line.

As you must know by now, food is the way for me to talk about everything else. And since tomorrow is Mother's Day, I've got a few things on my mind.

As I've become a mother, I have really mixed feelings a about Mother's Day. I look forward to the cards my kids make me, and if I'm lucky Wyatt will write me a poem. I look forward to lounging around in the morning and sometimes reminiscing about having babies or what life was like before half my budget went to Target.

But...

There should be a Women's Day instead of Mother's Day. A day to honor whatever thoughtful choices we have made in our lives. 

Deciding not to be a mother is full of integrity. And brave. Our culture puts so much emphasis--overtly and subtly--on motherhood as the fulfillment of womanhood. I have been blessed, over and over again, by women in my life who are not mothers. They have more energy for their work in the world. They're less distracted, and they have a lot of love left for my children!

Longing for motherhood and not experiencing it is painful. I don't know about this firstand (2 weeks from decision to fertilization in this household!), but I know from listening and being with lots of women. I've learned never to be cavalier about it or assume anything. Everyone's got a story, and some of them are full of pain and broken dreams.

The maternal spirit comes in many forms. It comes with godmothers and godfathers. It comes with anyone who lovingly takes care of children for a living or as a favor. It comes whenever there's care for a dying, sick, or disabled person. It comes in how we connect with and care for our pets. In the Buddhist way, what would happen if we saw ourselves as mother to everyone AND saw everyone in our community as mother to us? A lot of love going around. And you don't have to actually be a mother to experience that. 

My children don't owe me anything. I don't need to be thanked for bringing them into the world--that was my choice, not theirs! They didn't ask to be born. I've always said that the decision to have children can be construed as selfish, and the decision not to have children can be construed as selfish. The truth is that all of us are just caught up in the mystery of living and we are doing the best we can.

The biggest reward of motherhood is relationship. And that can come in so many ways beside motherhood! No matter how it comes, it's still something we have to choose every day. I could co-habitate with my children, feed and clothe them, AND go to all their soccer games and still not really be in relationship with them. You can be a loving aunt on the other side of the country and REALLY have relationship if you're intentional. Surprise! Intention is the key. Having needy, dependent creatures that come from your own body might be the shortcut to relationship because I don't have to coordinate anything to see them! There are so many ways to have deep, intentional relationship with children or others in our lives, but it all requires work.

Happy Mother's Day to everyone. Every one of us is a son or daughter. Every one of us came from a mother and is going back to our Mother. Maybe you've landed on work that has exposed and deepened your maternal spirit. Maybe you've sat with the dying. Maybe you've negotiated a difficult relationship with your Mother and come out the other side, more reflective and more interesting. Or maybe you're nursing a newborn as you read this, and there are absolutely no words to describe how raw and how "yourself" that feels. 

Happy Mother's Day to my mom. Thank you for all the beautiful picnics our family went on, and your love of suprises. Thank you for being there when my children were born and throwing your love and energy into grandparenthood. Thank you for your great style, your appreciation of beauty, and bringing the party with you wherever you go. I love you.

Happy Mother's Day to these cookies. How's that for a transition? I really wouldn't mind being a direct descendent of these chewy, spicy, expletive-worthy morsels. That wouldn't be a bad lineage. And, fittingly, these are my Mom's chocolate chip cookies with some variations. I made them for my physical therapist, whose care for me in the past year has made me feel more like myself. Happy Mother's Day to her, too.

Salted Chocolate Cookies with Ginger and Coconut
This dough needs to be refrigerated, so plan ahead a bit. No mixer needed here. As with most cookies, watch them very carefully in the oven and take them out before they look done.

2 c. old fashioned oats
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg plus one egg yolk
1 c. (2 cubes) melted unsalted buter, cooled
1 c. unsweetened coconut chips (large flakes)
1/2 pkg (or more) dark chocolate chips
1/3 c. chopped candied ginger
flaked salt for tops 

Combine oats, flour, salt, soda, and sugars in medium mixing bowl. Add egg, egg yolk, and  cooled melted butter and stir until almost combined. Add coconut, chocolate chips, and ginger, and stir until just mixed. Refrigerate dough for an hour.

Heat oven to 350. Form dough into balls (about 2 Tb. per ball) and set onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Press a bit of flaked salt into the tops of each cookie. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until they're just baked. Remove from oven and cool. 

Toffee Bars

Toffee bars

Back when this blog began (Four years ago. Can it be?), I felt some sort of compunction to vary my entries--cookies one week, soup the next, perhaps. Now, in my blogging dotage, I've realized what you have known all along. That this blog is really for me--my ramblings, my musings, my opining. And yes, my cookie baking. Variation be damned.

Loretta has an art room off the kitchen, and she is constantly--every spare second, some days--creating things. Books, paintings, 3D kites and houses, cards. After each one, she puts down her pens, runs to me, and says, "Look, Mom! It's for you!" When I'm being a good mother, I stop what I'm doing, hold her creation, and tell her what I like about it. And then I hang it up in my office. (Don't worry, fellow mothers. I then recycle most of it the next day. She has a short memory.)

But the excitement is in the creating, and that's what filling up the cookie jar does for me. If everything else in my week fell flat--I said the wrong thing to my client, I forgot to send Wyatt's field trip money, I fell asleep during every meditation attempt--at least I baked. It has a beginning, an end, and I can say to my children, "Look! It's for you!"

In a world of consumption, it's increasingly important that we create something. I have friends who are creating geniuses. They sew, they build chicken coops, they felt. And I'm so inspired by them. But you don't have be a DIY person to create! Or go spend a bunch of money on objects that will allow you to "live simply and beautifully." Maybe you arrange the cheese and crackers in your children's lunchbox. Or send a letter, assemble a colorful vegetable platter, or make a shrine of found objects in your office. Something that reminds you of your power to impact the world around you. All of us have that power, but screens and chatter and perfectionism drown it out sometimes.

As for me, you know where I'll be. Thumbing through Alice Medrich's cookie book, looking for something that will survive the tumult of a kid's lunchbox. These did the trick this week.

P.S. Wyatt got a lead role in his school musical, "Once Upon a Mattress." After counless rehearsals, the productions were this week. Look at this 10 year old putting himself out there. Blowing me away. 

Mar192013_0192 

 Toffee Bars
More from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich. These are crazy easy.

For the crust:
12 Tb. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/3 c. sugar 
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. flour
2 c. pecan halves

For the topping:
1 Tb. water
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
8 Tb. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks
2/3 to 1 c. milk or dark chocolate chips (I used 60%, but I think milk would be delicious, too)

Line a 9x13 metal pan, bottom and all 4 sides, with foil. Prehat oven to 350.

To make the crust, cut the butter into chunks and melt it in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Scatter the pecans over the dough without pressing them into it. Lay an extra piece of foil over the nuts to allow them to toast without buring while the crust is baking.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned at the edges. While the crust is baking, make the topping.

To make the topping, combine the water and brown sugar in a small saucepan and whisk until the sugar is moistened. Heat the mixture over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally Whisk in the butter and remove from the heat.

When the crust is ready, whisk the topping until smooth. Remove the foil from the crust and scrape the hot butter mixture over the pecans on the crust. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the topping is dark and bubbling vigorously. Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the top. Cool the bars in the pan. Lift the ends of the foil iner and transfer to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut into 24 bars.  

Candy Cane Brittle

Peppermint Bark II

So I'm a sucker for chocolate and peppermint. Sue me. 

And for all those folks who love to complain about Christmas coming too soon, you'd better start complaining about me, too. We already have our tree up. Me and Buddy the Elf are ready. It feels so good to be home, not in transition anymore, not living out of boxes. (Well, pretty much. Trying to be patient.)

I would rather die than go anywhere or purchase anything on Black Friday, but holing up in my kitchen or dragging out the art supplies is another matter. And my mom started a tradition, way back when, of always making some sort of special treat or cookie on tree decorating night. I come by it naturally.

There were many other things I should have been doing yesterday, but I spent a good portion of it getting ready for Tree Decorating Night. Vacuumed the rug, hauled out the plastic tote marked "Xmas," and had to go to two stores to get the ingredients for these little numbers. I was doing it all for Wyatt. Really. He goes NUTS over chocolate and peppermint. Like I've said before in your presence, there's nothing quite as motivating as seeing your kids love something you make. Wyatt really goes for it, too. He rolls his eyes, groans, get chocolate everywhere. It's pretty great. 

I'm keenly aware lately that these are the moments I will miss and romanticize as I grow older and into different seasons of life. Don't get me wrong--I'm dying to go to Greece and Morocco, sleep in every once in awhile, and actually get something accomplished during my day. But all of that is overrated. These moments, unwrapping all the Chrismtas ornaments or cleaning up the playdough, are the real ones. I'll miss the physicality of the kids' little limbs, the completely un-self-conscious way they love things like Christmas lights and peppermint bark. 

This is it, and it's breathtaking. I am blessed beyond belief.

Candy Cane Brittle
Adapted from Bon Appetit. I used to be down on BA after Gourmet went under. I didn't want to like it. But guess what? I can't help myself. The December issue got me out of a kitchen stupor. All of the sudden, I want to attempt everything and travel everywhere. And that inspiration is totally worth the subscription price. 

P.S. I get chocolate for stuff like this at Trader Joes. Their "Pound Plus" bars are the deal of the century. And apparently white chocolate is totally passé. So 1984. I actually had to look pretty hard to find some. I settled for a Godivia bar from the grocery store. I suppose you could go without it, but I like the contrast and the way it binds everything together.

1 lb. high quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. chopped candy canes, divided (I used 6 "regular" size candy canes, put them between parchment paper, and pounded them with a rolling pin)
1 c. chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers), lightly crushed
2 oz. high quality white chocolate, melted 

Line a large baking sheet with foil. Stir bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of shimmering water until melted. Stir in 1/4 c. chopped candy and all the crushed cookies; spread mixture over foil till it's about 1/4 " thick. Sprinkle the rest of the candy over, and drizzle with the white chocolate (which you've melted in the same manner as the bittersweet chocolate). Chill until set, about 30 minutes, and break into shards. 

Chocolate Orange Walnut Loaf Cake

Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake
I feel like singing a little tune. That's how easy and scrumptious this tender-crumbed cake is.

Another baby has been born in our family's world, and the kids and I delivered dinner this afternoon. I wrapped up only three quarters of this loaf for them. We had to sample it first. Quality Control.  Melissa Clark's recipe. Again! I love her style--conversational, practical, inventive. This cake involves just a bowl and a spoon, and ingredients I always have around--plain yogurt, eggs, chocolate chips, nuts. I subbed walnuts for her pecans because they were on hand, and added orange zest to the batter and an orange glaze while it was still piping hot. I love how the glaze settles in, getting sticky and shiny, running down around the sides.

Loretta and I had a rare morning together. She stirred the cake batter, and we made valentines while it baked. There were various preschooler demands later in the afternoon (More snack! I don't want to have a rest time!), but our 90 minutes of baking and crafting were divine. I listened again to John Kabat-Zinn recently, who says that children are like little zen masters, parachuted into our lives to push all our buttons and see how we'll respond. It's funny--I just came back from a work trip, and what I missed was all those buttons being pushed. In my better moments, I can stand back and say,"This craziness means my life is full. I am choosing the uncertainty, the ambiguity, the loose ends, and I'd be lost without them."

valentines

My valentine

Chocolate Orange Walnut Loaf Cake

1 c. sugar
2/3 c. plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1 3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 c. (10 Tb.) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
finely grated zest of one orange

For glaze:
Juice and zest of one orange
3/4 c. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Using a whisk, whisk together the sugar and  yogurt. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until completely combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry mixture into the wet and mix until just combined. Using a spatula, fold in the melted butter a little at a time. Fold in the chocolate chips, walnuts, and orange zest.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make glaze. Using a whisk, combine orange juice, zest, and powdered sugar.

When cake is done, poke several holes in a it with a toothpick or skewer. Immediately pour glaze over the top and allow it to saturate the cake. It will pool up a bit at the edges--brush it back over the top with a pastry brush. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool to room temp before cutting it.

Fudgy Salted Brownies

Fudgy Salted Brownies

I cannot remember the last time I made brownies. Any faint memories I do have aren't good. Once, I made a giant double batch of Barefoot Contessa brownies and left the sugar out. Other times, the recipe has been disappointing--too dry, too wet, too sweet. A few months ago, my friend Abra asked for a good brownie recipe. I'm finally getting around to it, and these deliver. Big time. (Poor Yancey had to endure me preening all night).

They take a few pantry staples--lots of butter, flour, plain old cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate--and turn them into something that will have you sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night. They have a thin layer of crackle on top, fissuring to reveal a dark, chewy density. Really, the perfect brownie.

I've (again) drastically cut down my sugar and fat intake the last few months. So when I sat down with one of these and a cup of coffee this afternoon, I savored every sweet, fudgy, salty morsel.

Fudgy Salted Brownies
You won't be surprised that this is adapted from a Melissa Clark recipe. She includes a pinch of cayenne, which I didn't for the sake of children. And I covered half the batch with flaked salt and left the other half plain. I can imagine lots of other additions if you want to experiment--bits of candied ginger, cinnamon for a Mexican chocolate version. I happen to have a 9x13 baking sheet (quarter sheet) which is my workhorse for bar cookies. If you make cookies a lot, I suggest spending the $10 for one. If all you have is a 9x13 baking dish, that will work too.

2 sticks + 2 Tb. unsalted butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. plus 1 Tb. cocoa powder
2 1/2 c. sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tb. vanilla extract
Maldon salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350. Line a rimmed 9x13-inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a microwave or in the top bowl of a double boiler, melt together the buttter and chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Meanwhile, combine the flour and kosher salt in a medium bowl.

Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.Fold in the dry ingredients and continue folding until no lumps remain.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle all over with the Maldon salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is set and shiny. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan before cutting into 2x2-inch squares.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars

peanut butter bars
For a few years now, these have been my go-to cookies. (Alright. One of them.) You can almost make them in your sleep. In fact, I've often been half-asleep, standing at the mixer at 11:00 pm, making cookies for a potluck I forgot about or a school bake sale I foolishly agreed to contribute to. Peanut butter (the bad, hydrogenated oil kind), coconut, butter, maybe some chocolate chips. They're what I like to call "sleeper cookies," in that they look disappointingly dull.  Like, "Who made those for the bake sale?" No one will swoon when you walk into the room with your Saran wrap-covered platter.  But they'll be your BFF after that.

Maybe you can bring these to the Halloween party you forgot about. Growing up (and this is a long story I won't tell), our family was one of those weird ones that had harvest parties instead of going trick-or-treating. So I am bound and determined that my children will go trick-or-treating, get as ghoulish as they want, and dive into the ridiculousness of Halloween with gusto. And if that means cookies and candy, so be it.

Peanut Butter Coconut Bars
Adapted from my Gourmet cookbook. You really do want the bad kind of peanut butter here, not the good-for-you, stir-it-up kind. Other than that, these cookies are a blank slate. I've made them without the coconut, subbed oatmeal for the coconut, added chocolate chips or not, put salted peanuts on top or not. The best pan to make them in is an aluminum  1/4 sheet (half the size of a regular baking sheet). If you don't have one of those, a  9 x 13 will work.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2  cup white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut or oats (or 1/2 and 1/2)
1 c. chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped salted roasted peanuts for the top (optional)


In a bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter with both sugars and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Add the peanut butter, beat the mixture until it is combined well, and beat in the egg, the vanilla, and the salt. Add the flour, beat the mixture until it is just combined, and stir in the coconut and/or oats, and chocolate chips. Spread the mixture evenly in a buttered jelly-roll pan, 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1 inches, sprinkle the peanuts over it (if using), pressing them into the mixture lightly, and bake the mixture in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let the mixture cool completely in the pan on a rack, cut it into 24 bars, and cut each bar in half diagonally to form 2 triangles if you want (I usually don't.)

Halloween Bark

Halloween Bark
Yesterday, I was doing an interview for some client work. 30 minutes, me and a stranger in a corporate conference room.  I asked how her morning was going, and she said she was having a hard day.  Then she said, "When I go home at night, there's my daughter and a new puppy to play with, and I remember what matters. This is just work." She teared up a little and, since my tear ducts are connected to everyone else's, I teared up too.

I thought of her today, making this CRAZY sugar-packed Halloween treat.  I had one of those days that makes me feel nuts--"home" with the kids, but forcing Loretta to take a nap so I could make my conference call in time, distracted and anxious, wishing the day had 12 more hours in it but wanting it to end all at the same time. Then Wyatt came home from school, the promised Halloween treat-making ensued, and I HAD to stop what I was doing, be present to them, and remember what really matters.

Of course, it all matters, even the small stuff we're not supposed to sweat. Don't you hate it when people tell you not to sweat the small stuff? If you're sweating it, it's probably big. But there are some things that matter more than others--my seven-year-old sidling up and rubbing my back, my preschooler snuggling with me in the morning, destroying the kitchen by smashing up peanut butter cups and getting chocolate everywhere. The rest? It's just work.

Halloween Bark
Adapted from Bon Appetit. You could, of course, use so many other things on top of the chocolate--nuts, coconut, different kinds of candy bars, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit. This, clearly, favors the preferences of children, for whom absolutely nothing can be too sweet. I won't tell you how much I ate after they went to bed last night. All candy bars are the "regular" size--not king size or mini.

1 pound bittersweet chocolate chips
2 Butterfinger bars, cut into irregular pieces
3 Heath bars, cut into irregualr pieces
8 peanut butter cups, cut into 8 wedges each
3 oz. high quality white chocolate, chopped
couple handfuls Reeses's Pieces

Line a baking sheet with foil.  Heat chocolate chips in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring frequently, until melted and warm (not hot) to the touch. Pour chocolate onto foil; spread to 1/4" thickness (about a 12"x10" rectangle).  Sprinkle with butterfingers, toffee, and peanut butter cups, making sure everything sticks to the melted chocolate.

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring frequently, until melted and warm (not hot) to the touch. Remove from heart. Dip spoon into chocolate, wave from side to side over bark, creating zigzag lines. Scatter Reeses's Pieces over, making sure it sticks.

Chill bark until firm, about 30 minutes. Cut or break bark into irregular pieces.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

slice-of-heaven

We are still friends if this is what you're thinking right now: "*&#$! I have a real life. I don't have time to stand at my stovetop slaving over caramel sauce or hunt down fleur de sel from God knows where. Who does this girl think she is?!" I understand. That's me, half the time.

My parents were on their way from Leavenworth to Bellingham, and I said I'd make a birthday dinner for my Dad. My Mom offered to buy a cake from Macrina. I thought about taking her up on it, but I wanted to make something. That's how it goes with me--every once in awhile, I crave something a little more technical, something I can brag about on Facebook and give myself a big ol' pat on the back about. In spite of a very busy Saturday and Yancey being on shift, I managed to pull it off. Priorites, I guess. My kids can watch cartoons all day, and I'll be in the kitchen with my candy thermometer, cursing under my breath and hoping my investment in expensive salt and chocolate pays off. Put another $20 in their therapy fund.

I'm pleased to report that all the cursing and parental neglect payed off. My parents closed their eyes in rapture at first bite, and my Dad pronounced it the best chocolate cake he's ever eaten. And this is a man decidedly not prone to any kind of hyperbole. My Mom and I have that territory covered. How wonderful, to sit around the kitchen table, dying over my cake, Loretta's constant chatter as the backdrop and full from cioppino (recipe soon). Happy Birthday, Papa. I love you.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake
This is from my Baked cookbook, which Jordan gave me for my birthday last year. I'm directing you to my friend Dana's recipe, since she has done all the work of transcribing it already. (Can I call you my friend, Dana? We have yet to meet.) Follow all her warnings. And this warning from me: make sure your frosting is completley cooled before you start beating in the butter!! Mine was a little warm still (impatience is my biggest flaw, in cooking and in life), and my ganache ended up being much runnier than I would have liked. Thankfully, I was able to remedy the issue by putting it in the fridge for 30 minutes, stirring it every 10 minutes so it didn't harden too much. AND I found my cake did much better being refrigereated before cutting. Good luck! Tell me all about it.

Recipe

Apricot Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_9477
I brought a big tray of these cookies over to to my friend Kathy, hoping they might help feed all the family and friends that had descended on her house after Bud's death. I met some of the family later at the memorial service. I positively beamed when they asked me for the recipe and recounted how they had all stood over them exclaiming and how there were none left. I suppose it helped me feel that, in some small way, I had lightened the load just the tiniest bit. Cookies are good for that sort of thing.

And I did promise the recipe. You, faithful readers, will not be surprised that it's simply an adaptation of my Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies. Macrina makes a similar version, but I am going to be completely audacious and sacrilegious by saying I think these are better. Pride comes before a fall. I'm now ensuring that the next 10 things I cook will utterly flop.

Still thinking about you every second, Kathy. And about how Bud tended to gobble up whatever baked goods I made. I'll miss that.

Apricot Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies
Even if you're not a huge dried fruit fan, I'm betting you'll like the dried apricots in these. The chocolate balances out their sweetness, and they lend a wonderful chewiness. And the espresso powder (available at lots of decent grocery stores--I buy the Medaglia D'Doro brand) adds a depth that your grateful tasters might not be able to put their finger on. Super important to LET THIS DOUGH REFRIGERATE FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES or the cookies will flatten out too much.

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 ts. baking soda
pinch salt
3 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 cubes (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1 ts. vanilla
1/2 bag semisweet or 60% chocolate chips (Can add more if you want.  This is how I get two batches out of one bag)
1 c. coarsely chopped dried apricots


Preheat oven to 350.  In medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal,sugars, salt,baking soda, and espresso powder. Add egg, egg yolk, melted butter, and vanilla, stir once or twice, then add chocolate chips and dried apricots. Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes to firm it up.  Place balls of cookie dough on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, and bake for 9-10 minutes.  Take them out while they still the tiniest bit underdone.  Once they sit for 15 minutes, they’ll be just right.